By: Rajesh Seth

In the second of two articles, Rajesh Seth explains how the Indian government is pushing ahead with policy to improve road safety and establish a new model to deal with transport risks.

The Man at the Wheel

On average, a long-haul trucker in India works over 60 hours per week and drives more than 150,000 km per year. They are often drowsy while driving, and the consequences can be fatal. Most Indian truck drivers do not wear seat belts. And having unrealistic deadlines increases the likelihood of unsafe driving. Nearly 25% of drivers admit to driving despite fatigue and almost 50% of them admit to driving under adverse conditions. The majority of drivers receive inadequate training, or none at all.

A quarter of the road accidents in India involve heavy vehicles, with a fatality rate of about 25%. Also, 50% of accidents occur between sunset and sunrise as drivers prefer to drive in the night to escape police and transport officials during the day.

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Major components of the Road Safety programs are the softer aspects relating to drivers’ physical and mental health, work-life balance, personal hygiene, lifestyle and eating habits, literacy and education, and issues relating to self-esteem and dignity.

Road Safety Culture in IndiaDespite their hard work, truck drivers in India seldom receive the respect they deserve. They are not accorded any position of dignity, largely owing to their absence from the routine social life of their families and communities.

The majority of the drivers are uneducated and often learn to drive on the job while working as  helpers. This means they seldom have any formal defensive driving training. Added to this is the larger problem of the typical driver having  a “macho” attitude and an ingrained fatalism: “what has to happen, will happen”.

A Home on Wheels

An Indian truck driver is on the road almost every day of the month, driving long distances, often in extremely hot weather and on poorly maintained roads. The truck is virtually his home. The primary aim of the government’s road safety improvement programmes is to achieve Zero Harm, based on the conviction that all accidents are preventable. More specifically, these programmes provide guidance on the management of road safety and help reduce the number of serious road accidents and fatalities by providing guidance and defensive driving training.

The Role of Business

Managers should demonstrate commitment to managing all transport operations in a safe and responsible manner. It is essential to  communicate clearly across the organisation that road transport safety standards are an important company principle and thus a requirement.

A sound vehicle management system should be in place to ensure that all vehicles are legally roadworthy, and meet the organisation’s own safety standards. It is now standard procedure for organisations to check all incoming vehicles against a comprehensive vehicle inspection checklist as many vehicles lack even basics such as seat belts, head rests and rear-view mirrors.

A robust driver management system is also essential. Road transporter contractors need a process for recruitment of new drivers and their training, with use of and equipment such as driving simulators and seat belt convincers. Various types of training include defensive Ddiving and journey risk management modules.

Road Safety CultureCompanies are also introducing comprehensive journey management systems, with identification of route hazards, risk mapping and planning for adverse weather, reducing or eliminating nighttime driving and in-vehicle monitoring systems for real-time tracking of journeys and monitoring driver behaviour for speeding, harsh manoeuvring, harsh braking and harsh acceleration. Road surveillance audits help to check seat belt use, and other practices like carrying unauthorised passengers in the cab.

These measures are to encourage safe driving behaviour. Feedback must be imparted to the driver after after each trip. Drivers should also be counselled on unsafe driving practices, with appropriate disciplinary action for repeat offenders.

A Matter of Culture

Implementing a road safety improvement programme in India has its challenges. The country has a low safety culture and poor literacy among truck drivers. In addition, much of the trucking fleet is ageing and poorly maintained. Although India’s traffic laws are stricter than those of other countries, enforcement is poor. This is a major cause of rash driving and transporters getting away with operating unroadworthy vehicles.

Despite the hurdles, India is slowly acquiring a new road safety culture, largely with the efforts of corporations. But any initiative is sustainable only when all the stakeholders  believe in the processes. Improved road safety in India needs the government’s and corporate leadership’s trust, the road transport contractors’ commitment, and the drivers’ engagement. Above all, each of them must believe that safety is not an unattainable goal, but an aim that is reachable and, indeed, essential.